“What then shall we say in response to this…”

Perspective is an important thing to understand when conducting historical analysis. As such, we will be revisiting the decision to drop the atomic bombs in order to garner a more complete understanding of the decisions that surrounded the groundbreaking event. In order to do so, the chapter, The Decision to drop the Bomb, in James Davidson’s book After the Fact will be heavily referenced and compared to Stimpson’s article in Harper’s Magazine throughout this post.

The first claim that Davidson calls in to question is the idea that it was President Truman’s decision to drop the bomb. As Davidson discusses, Truman was on the way back to the United States from the Potsdam Conference when the decision to use the bomb was made. Davidson asserts that this runs in contradiction with the over-simplified view of American Bureaucracy that is often present in narrative political science and history. It is easy to pin the “big decision” on the President as Truman was the man to coin the term “the buck stops here”. In doing so, however, layers of decision making are ignored as well as the leaders who made them, ultimately effecting the direction the war, and how the ensuing decades of Cold War arms race would play out.

Davidson places particular emphasis on the view that the United States, and ally Great Britain, were playing a “desperate” game of catch up to the scientifically superior Nazis. Several scientists from fascist Italy and Germany fled to either Great Britain or the United States in the late 1930’s with troubling information that their respective nations were developing so called “super bombs” that harnessed the power of atomic energy. Davidson continues to propose that this could have been once incentive to urge the Allied powers to develop bombs of their own.

The chapter further delves into the bureaucratic under-belly of decision making in the United States  specifically through highlighting something called Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs. This is an interesting point for Davidson to hone in on for such a bulk of the chapter. On the surface it may just seem to be another acronym meant to simplify life. SOPs, however, are the brain-child of the United States Army, and have deep roots in the Military Decision Making Process and Troop Leading Procedures. Both of which are guiding doctrine in how to lead and execute military operations. As such, the language and decision making process used are heavily influenced by military jargon and procedures. The emphasis on military draws an interesting connection with Stimpson’s article for Harper’s.

Stimpson’s whole argument revolved around the idea that dropping the bombs would ultimately save lives and end the war in the most expedited way possible. As Secretary of War, he represented the view of the military. As Davidson discussed in his book, Truman, while Commander in Chief, was not completely in the loop with regards to the decision to drop the bomb. As is seen through both his physical location, and the manner in which the decision and implication of SOPs was made, it was a military venture.

Perspective can change at a moments notice. It can also allow for connections to be drawn between people, events, or circumstances that otherwise seemed unrelated. As historians, perspective is essential in order to better understand the full scope of a given field of study. Nothing is black and white and nothing better shows us that than a careful look at perspective.

“I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful Rebukes.”

When we think of World War Two, we are often greeted with imagery of patriotism, immense struggle for the greater good, and the triumph of democracy over those who would oppress and conquer. We see Marines raising the Stars and Stripes over Iwo Jima, Patton standing stoically on the slopes of Italy’s mountains, or the salted faces of the first infantry division about to storm the beaches of Normandy. With these notorious images, however, comes controversy and dissent. Among one of the most debated issue to this day is the use of the atomic bombs on the Empire of Japan. Henry L. Stimpson, the Secretary of War during WWII, provides immense insight into the development of the great bomb and its strategic use in an article for Harper’s Magazine Published in 1947.

Henry L. Stimpson

“The face of war is the face of death; death is an inevitable part of every order that a wartime leader gives.”  Acceptance. There is perhaps no better word to summarize Stimpson’s view on the events encompassing the development and eventual use of the atomic bomb. Throughout the article he brings the reader from the first conceptualization of an atomic weapon to its implementation in the Pacific Theater. He remains, on the whole, emotionally objective regarding the ordeal. Stimpson presents his view analytically and empirically making it difficult to contest his backing of the decision to drop the bomb.

There are many critics who would suggest that the atomic bomb was a superfluous use of force. Their argument centers around the idea that by using the atomic bomb, the United States ushered in the era of atomic warfare and opened the door to a new threat the world over. While this may be the case, decision makers do not have the benefit of hindsight. They need to execute in the way they deem most effective. In the case of Stimpson and the United States government, this meant using the bomb.

Two great nations were approaching a fight to a finish which would begin on November 1, 1945. Our enemy, Japan, commanded forces os somewhat over 5,000,000 armed men. Men of these armies had already inflicted upon us, upon the breakthrough of the outer perimeter of their defenses, over 300,000 battle casualties. Enemy armies still unbeaten had the strength to cost us a million more… My chief purpose was to end the war in victory with the least cost in the lives of the men in the armies which I had helped to raise.

These are the direct words of Stimpson from the Harper’s Magazine article. It is not the view of a political scientist or historian, a war fanatic or pacifist, a general or a private. No, it is straight from the mind of the then Secretary of War. In no way does this discredit the reality of how immense the loss of life on behalf the atomic bombs was, however, it does offer clarity as to the why behind the decision of the United States.

So what? What makes this any different from the hundreds of discussions that have covered this issue over the past seven decades. Its all about perspective. Stimpson most likely would have wanted to present a view of the situation that properly justified his actions, and he does so in a convincing way. There are two sides to every argument, and his makes more sense logically and consequentially.

Yes, by using the bomb, the United States opened the stage for an international arms race that would set the precedent for the Cold War. However, the bombs ended the immediate conflict, WWII. Yes, the U.S. could have invaded Japan, but, as Truman so accurately stated, “It would be an Okinawa from one end of the island to the other.” The survival rate for the United States Marine Corps at the peak of fighting on Okinawa was 1 in 5. Yes, it can be argued that the U.S. only wanted to use the bomb to justify its over 2 billion dollar budget, but had the bomb not been used countless more money and resources would have been poured into a costly land invasion.

Again it is all about perspective. The view that the bomb saved lives while deliberately ending the war is coming straight from the then Secretary of War. Very few other people would have had as accurate a perception and understanding of the implications both political and militaristic that the bomb would have. As such, the decision was an informed one that would ultimately usher in peace and allow for the U.S. to rebuild the nation of Japan.





Stimpson, Henry L. “The Decision to use the Atomic Bomb.” Harper’s Magazine, February 1947


Battle Of Okinawa: Summary, Fact, Pictures and Casualties


“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”


There is a very practiced and nuanced format to which persons are expected to adhere when conducting professional and credible historical work. The aforementioned form falls under the  umbrella of historiographical processes. Of these processes, the unequivocal importance of objectivity stands as a cornerstone, a pillar of necessity that deems lesser all other tenants of “good” history.


Just like that, I have single-handedly inserted a very strong, albeit obvious, bias into my work regarding the unparalleled importance of objectivity. While it is important to understand objectivity, or the ability to present information in an unbiased and accurate way, it is not the sole determining factor that dictates a strong work of history. The way in which a lack of objectivity can gloss over detail and different perspective is what makes it such a

danger to the historiographical process. It is usually right around now where people start to roll their eyes and yawn as the idea of historiography is not an overly compelling one. Historiography’s lack of luster may make it difficult to study, however, it is still an important concept to understand as it will bring one’s writing to a higher, more refined level.

Once again, ever so subtly, I inserted a simple counter. I acknowledged a common perception, or belief that could serve as a bias when learning about historiography. This acknowledgement of bias can somewhat negate it and serve to make a stronger point.

I digress, however, we must move on to why objectivity in history is in fact important, and touch on several of the more common forms in which objectivity, or, more accurately, a lack there of has impacted how we view the world.

As everyone’s favorite Prime Minister (more bias right there look out) so eloquently stated, “history is written by the victors.” That statement is true on a variety of levels. If we look back to World War II, the general consensus is that the Allies were good, the Axis bad. While a compelling case can be made for that stance, it deliberately ignores detail. By making something black and white, we lose sight of the grey, and its that grey which so often gives character, context, and reason for much of what we see in history.

A Higher Call is an excellent book that really calls out the importance of understanding context and the background when studying history. In the book, the protagonist, a German fighter pilot escorts a wounded American bomber back safely to Allied controlled airspace. The book goes into detail about the German pilot, Franz Stigler, and how he was not himself a Nazi. He considered himself an honor-bound knight in service to his country. Understanding that makes seeing all Nazis as “bad” much more difficult. It also creates layers to history where the importance of underlying motivation can ripple across time. Here we are some 70 years later, and this story of unusual compassion still strikes a chord.

History is a complex, beautifully woven tapestry of a diverse and intensely nuanced past. This is what makes it so fascinating, but when we let our objectivity by the wayside, we allow bias to slip in, and bias is blind. We lose sight of the whole picture and once that happens it becomes impossible to analyze  any period of history no matter how seemingly simple the matter at hand may be.

Below is a video that says what I have tried to convey in a much more sophisticated and refined way. I highly recommend giving it a watch to get a better idea of just how important objectivity is, and how it really has impacted every facet of our historical perspective.